Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Tuna", Aight?

One of the things I've missed most not eating meat is tuna sandwiches. Now I know, with the high levels of mercury, women of childbearing age should limit their intake of tuna, but I loved that stuff. I'd start with your basic albacore tuna in a can, miracle whip (yeah I'm not ashamed to admit it), onions and pickles and then be creative by adding in other things like roasted red peppers or peppadews, carrots, celery, whatever I had around. Top it with tomatoes, lettuce on toasted bread and it's a meal for kings (or queens.)

While on the Engine 2 28-Day Challenge, I tried Whole Foods mock tuna wrap and was surprised at how tuna like it tasted. It got me thinking of a mishap in the kitchen my fiance had when he added a little too much dulse, a seaweed, to his baked beans. Dulse is sometimes used to thicken dishes, but definitely has a little "of the sea" taste. In fact, those baked beans tasted like a steaming plate of fish. Well, hmmm, wouldn't that be perfect for some mock tuna?

I did a little research and found Happy Herbivore's mock tuna recipe. Having looked at the recipe quite awhile ago, I only used it for inspiration. For one thing, I mashed the chickpeas with a potato masher rather than using a food processor. The difference is by mashing you get the consistency of albacore tuna in a can rather than the mushier "chicken of the sea" or tongol variety. It's really your call.

Mock Tuna
4 servings

1 can no/low salt chickpeas
1/2 onion
1 roasted red pepper
2 T vegan mayo (you can make this Engine 2 approved by substituting whipped silken tofu)
3/4 T dulse (Happy Herbivore uses kelp. It's smart to start with less and flavor to your preference)
1 T lime juice (To make the mayo taste like miracle whip :) )
2 tsp garlic powder
dash of black pepper

Mash or food process your chickpeas to your preferred tuna consistency. Add diced veggies, mayo, seaweed and spices. Don't forget the lime juice or other "sour" flavoring, like vinegar if you want a miracle whip flavor :).  Taste and adjust to your flavor preference. Enjoy on a salad, in a wrap or on bread. This keeps well in the fridge.

You can add in shredded carrots, celery, diced pickles, really whatever you like in your tuna sandwich. Watch the video for happy herbivore's recipe for some other ideas.

I whipped this stuff up last night and when I got home from the gym today had a tasty lunch ready in less than 5 minutes. The benefits are this version has no cholesterol (in fact with high fiber bread, this sandwich can help lower cholesterol!) and is very low in sodium and fat. If you're eating tuna for the omega-3 benefit, you could add some flaxseeds or flaxseed meal to the mix.

To our health,


We've been a little stressed out the last week with extra work, taxes, big purchases, etc. I woke up this morning to my fiance worried about a mysterious charge on his bank account. The stress was visible in the wringing of his hands. There wasn't much I could do to help, but I thought maybe making one of his favorite breakfast dishes would bring a little comfort.

I'm not much of a biscuits and gravy fan myself. I usually find it pretty bland and greasy. Now, my fiance hasn't had biscuits and gravy since the Engine 2 28-day challenge because even the vegan versions we've had out seem oily and salty. So, I challenged myself to make a healthier version (it's not Engine 2 approved though because I did use a little olive oil and a salty faux sausage) that even I would like. Thanks to Punk Rock Kitchen's Vegan with Vengeance cookbook for the inspiration.

Michelle's Healthier Biscuits and Gravy
3-4 servings

1 can no salt added cannellini beans (can't find no salt? just rinse the beans to cut the salt in half)
1 Tbs olive oil
1 c low sodium vegetable broth
1/2 yellow onion
2 cups frozen veggies (peas and carrots are a good combo)
2 links of veggie sausage (I had tofurky beer brats, so that's what I used.)
2 tsp sage
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp basil
2 tsp oregano
1 pkg Ezekiel 7-grain english muffins (usually in the freezer section)
parsley if you have it

Blend the rinsed beans, olive oil and 1/4 c veggie broth until smooth. In a pan, add diced onions and let brown and then add veggie sausage. Use the extra veggie broth in small doses to saute the onions and sausage by loosening the browned goodness from the bottom of the pan. Add in the blended bean mixture and spices. Adjust spices to your tastes. If you are using italian sausage, you may not want to add the basil, oregano, garlic and red pepper flakes. It's your call! Add in frozen veggies and if you want a thinner gravy a little more veggie broth. Heat on stove top. If the english muffins were frozen, heat for 30 seconds in microwave, flip and heat another 30 seconds before adding them to the toaster. I toasted them whole because my toaster could and I wanted them like biscuits out of the oven.  Serve and enjoy.

Did the biscuits and gravy melt away all the stress and worry? No, but they were a tasty, healthy breakfast break.

Now it's off to the gym in honor of my 28-day 30 minutes a day workout challenge. Have a good weekend.

To all of our health!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


It's been about two weeks since I wrapped up the Engine 2 28-day challenge, and I've found myself at a plateau in terms of the health benefits. I'm still eating a largely plant-based diet (I had a lapse into the world of dairy with a rasberry-champagne chocolate bar on clearance at the Co-op.) I've even made some great Engine 2 approved foods, including potato-kale enchiladas with no oil or salt. My exercise is still a little lackluster (minus a 20 mile bike ride, I've been a bit of a couch potato), so maybe that's one way to kickstart my body again?

What is it about the end of the work day that makes me want to go home and vegetate with my cat rather than hit the treadmill? I mean he is a very charming couch potato buddy.

But, I have an expensive gym membership that I haven't used in months, and I know when I workout I feel better. I just make the choice at the end of the day to go home and relax because I can always exercise tomorrow. Yet, tomorrow rarely seems to come. So, I'm issuing myself an exercise 28-day challenge, starting today (through March 22nd), at least 30 minutes each day. Walking, biking, dancing like a fool, whatever gets me moving. I just need to get off the couch (so does Bubs.)

Hmm, not exactly what I had in mind, Bubs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Let's Get Stew-pid

What is it about bay leaves? They have some sort of magical property that makes soups, especially stews, really sing. Tonight for dinner I made a version of  the hearty winter stew from Whole Foods' Crockpot recipes from the Engine 2 challenge.

Stew-alicious Stew

1 yellow onion
2-3 carrots
3 yukon gold potatoes
1 turnip
4 celery stalks
4 garlic cloves
1 package of seitan
1 carton potato leek soup
1-2 c. veggie broth
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
Bragg's or soy sauce to taste

Dice onions and start to saute on high heat (no oil!). Add diced carrots, potatoes, celery, garlic and turnip (add as you dice so they can brown). If your pan starts to brown, just add some potato leek soup or veggie broth to loosen that browned veggie goodness. Add the seitan, thyme and black pepper. Add the potato leek soup, veggie broth and bay leaves. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Enjoy!

Monday, February 20, 2012

I scream for ice cream!

I had today off and enjoyed the chance to catch up with a friend and cook a proper dinner. I don't know what it is about days off, but I get this strong craving for sweets. It's futile to fight the craving, so I've found a guilt-free solution: frozen bananas. You don't need anything more than frozen bananas (save yourself the time by peeling them before you freeze them) and a food processor. If you want to get fancy you can add some vanilla extract or peanut butter or whatever flavor you want your banana flavored soft-serve.

Although delicious, you can't survive on sweets. For lunch, I joined a friend at Good Earth where I enjoyed a apple and sunchoke salad with arugula, pomegranate seeds and an apple vinaigrette.


At lunch, I was tempted by enchiladas only to realize you couldn't get them without cheese which meant they were a no-go. So, for dinner, I made plant-based, no oil potato and kale enchiladas based on a recipe from post punk kitchen. The thing I love to do with enchiladas is pile them high with fixings: lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, onions, salsa and avocado. I also like to sing and dance to my enchilada song when I eat enchiladas. Sadly, I didn't capture that on video. I did capture this bite of tasty, tasty enchilada.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bike, Eat, Repeat

What a day! A beautiful February Sunday turned into a day long 20 mile bike ride around the city with my fiance. We decided to bike 6 miles to Seward Community Cafe for lunch because the weather was gorgeous and their food is scrumptious.  I got my favorite: the mariachi. It's a whole wheat tortilla stuffed with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and tofu and topped with ranchero sauce and green onions. It's so tasty!

At lunch, I remembered I had afternoon plans in South Minneapolis (another 6 miles). So with plenty of time, we decided to continue the ride taking the Midtown Greenway before cutting through the city south to Royal Grounds. I was excited to see they carry Pacific Natural Food's barista blend soy milks which are AWESOME (it seems creamier, frothier and no aftertaste.) After catching up with some friends from grad school, my fiance and I decided to take the Minnehaha Parkway to Highland Park. Since we had been biking, eating or talking for over 5 hours, it was time for dinner and Chipotle sounded just right. I got the vegetarian salad sans the dressing with some brown rice, fajitas, black beans, mild tomato salsa and medium corn salsa, cholula hot sauce and guacamole.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Night Out

We had dinner at Tanpopo, a Japanese noodle shop in St. Paul, tonight. We're quickly making up for lost nights out during the Engine 2 challenge. I am definitely stuffed. We ordered the spinach appetizer and a broiled tofu with sesame dressing.

I ordered the kimchi udon soup without the beef and substituting the vegetarian mushroom broth. I find it kind of frustrating when I make an order that gets rid of meat, usually the most costly element of a dish, and get charged an additional fee for the vegetarian broth. I understand having to pay more for substitutes, but shouldn't you also have to pay less for substituting out something like meat? I appreciate that about Thai, Chinese and Mexican restaurant menus where they have the dish priced according to the protein you order.  Regardless, I really enjoyed the kimchi (usually a Korean dish of fermented vegetables (often cabbage)), tofu, spinach, scallions and cloud-like udons in this plant-based dish.

I've noticed a couple of changes nearly a week after the challenge has ended.  First, I'm eating more calories now, but less food. Second, the oil on dishes still have a strange mouthfeel and prepared foods still taste really salty. I also find myself really craving fresh vegetables and fruits after eating something heavier. Now that I'm still eating largely a plant-based or vegan diet, one benefit is my fiance and I can share dishes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Grazing in Wisconsin

Just home from another work trip to Wisconsin. Post the Engine 2 Challenge, I decided to forego lugging a cooler of food with me. Opting to just choose healthier dishes while dining out. For lunches, I had the vegetarian soup at the local coffee shop (minestrone one day, curried lentils and rice the next). I also tried out Barrique's Biker's Dream, a whole wheat tortilla filled with peanut butter, banana, granola, peaches and strawberry jam. The real treat, though, was dinner out with my colleagues.

We went to Graze  which features locally grown, organic comfort foods. I arrived early with a colleague to put in our request for 8 for dinner. While we waited for others to arrive, we ordered the house pickle plate which featured daikon, kimchee, butternut squash, escabeche, beets, cucumbers. My favorites were the sweet cucumber pickles and the light butternut squash. Who am I kidding? They were all tasty!

For the main entree, the crispy smoky tofu sounded intriguing featuring carmelized cauliflower and sweet potato, roasted red pepper, shitake mushrooms, leeks and wild rice with a light curry shitake sauce, peanuts and cilantro. When I asked the waiter what made the tofu crispy, he explained that it was marinated in brown sugar and salt dredged in cornstarch and fried. I decided to get the dish, but skip the tofu. It was really, really, ridiculously good. I even asked the waiter to give my compliments to the kitchen!

I didn't have as much control with the oil, whole grains and salt that I ate by dining out, but I did get to enjoy trying new dishes. It's about moderation and making the best choices without depriving yourself. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Valentine

With the fiance working late, I decided to "do it up right" with a surprise valentine's day dinner for him. Not to much of  a surprise seeing as I blogged a few days ago about seeking inspiration, but it was a much appreciated opportunity for us to celebrate and enjoy one another's company over good food. By setting the table, having a couple courses and playing some music in the background, dinner was transformed from something we eat in front of the TV to a chance to connect and share.

The appetizer was heirloom tomato, avocado, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. A play on the caprese minus the dairy, salt and oil. The avocado was a great addition and the basil was really a star.

For the main course, I drew on the ingredients from our last winter share from Featherstone Farms that arrived on Valentine's Day. The potatoes and celeriac became a puree with a little rice milk. I served that with Happy Herbivore's portobello "steak" with balsamic onion sauce and a side of Ina Garten's sauteed broccolini featuring lemon and garlic. Having sampled the sauces and flavors, I knew we'd want some bread to gather every last bit, and Seward Coop carries Rustica Bakery's Miche which is wheat and rye sourdough. Rustica Bakery was named 1 of the 10 top bakeries in the US by Bon Apetit, and their bread is out of this world!

Dinner was delicious, but even better it was a chance to catch up on one another's day and celebrate our love for one another. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Easy Greasy Covergirl

I used to love the vegan blueberry muffins at Seward Coop, so in celebration of making it through the 28-day challenge, I decided to get one. I can now confidentally say that our tastes do change drastically in that short of time. The muffin seemed like the countless ones I've had in the past, but as I ate it, my tongue felt coated in fatty oil. I found myself wishing I was eating a bowl of warmed blueberries instead. As I type this, an hour later, my stomach feels a little uneasy. My body, in no uncertain terms, is telling me it wants more plant-based, whole grain, no oil foods.

Notice the grease on the tray? I hadn't before, but I do now.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flying High

I survived the Engine 2 28-day challenge! I more than survived; actually, I thrived. This challenge has forced me to take more ownership over what I eat and plan ahead. I didn't think I could do it initially because I had all these excuses about being too busy and having cravings for sugar, fat, etc. The truth is it really wasn't that hard because I surrounded myself with the right choices and I didn't deny myself I just chose different foods when I was hungry or craving something. Instead of eating fattening desserts, I made heated apple sauce with cinnamon topped with crunchy cereal and walnuts or picked up a health starts here life by chocolate (so good!) cake. Rather than blow $10 on lunch each day where my choices were loaded with oils and salt, I saved over $200 and packed lunches ranging from hummus sandwiches to an awesome sweet potato bowl.

I know, I know. What you really want to know is... so what came of all this. Well, here's the stats:

- Lost 16 lbs (wowza!)
- Blood pressure down at least 6 points and solidly in the "normal" category.
- Over a dozen new recipes tried
- No more caffeine, but energy is still high.
- No more swollen ankles (ewww)
- 26 blog posts
- 3 meet ups, 1 pizza party and one Slow Cooker plant-based recipes class.
- 2 dinner parties that stuck to the rules, but kept the non-E2 challenge guests happy

These are preliminary and I should have more health stats in the next few weeks when I go back for my post-challenge results. Until then, all I can say is sometimes it's good to do something you didn't think you could do.

A romantic meal for 2: Borscht and Stuffed Squash

My colleague and his wife recently had a beautiful baby, and are busy being first time parents. A number of us in the office have signed up to bring over home-cooked meals to help. It just so happens I got this week, and I started thinking of something that could be reheated but still romantic for the new parents. I have a plethora of beets and squash from my Featherstone Farm's winter share, so they seemed like a good base for planning the meal. And, because today is the last day of my Engine 2 challenge, these are no oil, low salt plant-based recipes.

For the starter course (or one meal if they want to spread it out), borscht seemed like the perfect dish. I love this stuff with the sweetness of the beets and the sour lemon and fresh dill. The romantic purplish red hue doesn't hurt, especially when you stir in the tofu sour cream and fresh dill turning it a beautiful pink. I modified two recipes (Mark Bittman's and Simply Recipes) to make a plant-based version.


8 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 small onion (red or yellow)
6-8 roasted beets
1-2 potatoes (should be about a cup)
1 large carrot
1/4 small cabbage head (purple is nice, but not necessary)
1/2 lemon + zest
1/4 cup fresh dill
black pepper
Tofu sour cream and fresh dill to garnish

Roast the beets with skins on wrapped in tinfoil in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 mins. When the beets cool, peel them and dice them. You can do this the night before and store them in the fridge overnight. In a soup pot, add vegetable broth, diced carrots, diced potatoes, diced onions, diced beets, and black pepper. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20-30 mins. Add 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, zest from a whole lemon, juice from half a lemon, diced cabbage, and a pinch of salt. Let the soup simmer for another 15 mins. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill.

For the main course, I liked the idea of stuffing individual delicata squash with wild rice, cranberry and pecans. I liked it so much, I decided to double it for me and the fiance as well.

Wild Rice Stuffed Squash
Makes 4-5
Takes 2 hours

4 squash (I used delicata)
2 1/4 c wild rice
1 box Vegetarian Wild Mushroom Gravy (2 cups)
1/4 c unsweetened dairy alternative
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/3 c dried cranberries
1/2 onion
1 large carrot
1-2 stalks of celery
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp thyme
3/4 cup pecans
salt and pepper to taste
crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To make the wild rice stuffing add the dairy alternative, vegetable stock and mushroom gravy to the wild rice in a big bowl and mixing in the garlic powder and black or crushed red pepper and salt. In a non-stick pan, saute the diced onions until they carmelize and add diced carrots and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in cranberries and thyme, and let it all combine for a minute. Add the vegetables to the bowl of soaking rice and stir. Using a 9x13 cake pan, add the vegetable/rice mixture and stir in pan evenly distributing the rice and liquid. Cover with tinfoil and cook in the oven for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, cut and clean the squash. Depending on the size you may want to stuff halves or whole squash by cutting off the lid. The rice is done when all visible liquid is gone (it will be slightly wet looking, but that's okay because it will finish baking in the squash.) Stuff the squash with the wild rice and sprinkle on crushed red pepper and cover with the tinfoil from the cake pan (way to reuse!). The squash will need to cook for up to an hour. Remove the tinfoil for the last 20 mins to let the squash and rice brown. While that's cooking, pan toast the pecans and give them a rough chop. The squash is done when a fork can slide easily into the flesh (with a delicata squash, you can eat the skin and the fork should pierce through easily.) Garnish with chopped, toasted pecans. Serve room temperature or hot out of the oven.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I'm Heartin' It Breakfast Sandwich

Some mornings I want more than cereal or a smoothie. I want something hearty and hot. I know in the past I would crave Bruegger's egg and cheese denver bagel or even a sausage and egg mcmuffin from McDonald's or the gas station. Those things are really not that healthy for you because they're loaded with fat and salt. And, no that's not what makes a breakfast sandwich good. To me, it's the silky smooth but substantial quality of eggs and the flavor of the sausage on a toasted muffin.  So this morning, I made a breakfast sandwich that has the same appeal but 1/3 the fat and 1/2 the sodium. 

Avocado replaces the egg. It's a healthy fat in moderation and has a silky creamy substantial consistency when sliced or lightly mashed. A veggie sausage replaces pork sausage. Vegetables add brightness and flavor.  You could easily nix the veggies and avocado and add a breakfast tofu scramble instead which would pack a serious protein punch. The other thing I exchanged was the type of english muffin used. Sprouted whole grains give you a lot more nutrition than the refined stuff and the brand I used doesn't have added sugar, butter or milk making it vegan-friendly.

Michelle's Breakfast Sandwich

1 Ezekiel's 7 Grain English Muffin (often carried in the frozen section of the grocery)
2 oz of Light Life Gimme Lean ground sausage
1/3 avocado
1 slice red onion
1 slice tomato
1/4 c baby spinach

You'll need to use a nonstick pan or some spray oil so the sausage doesn't stick. Just cut off 1/7th of the package and form it into a patty the size of your muffin and pan fry it until it's brown on each side. I like to put the avocado on the muffin, followed by onion, sausage, tomato, spinach, other muffin half. You should do what you want.

Here's how my breakfast sandwich compares with McDonald's Sausage and Egg McMuffin on nutrition:

Friday, February 10, 2012

So Ecopolitan

Dinner out on the Engine 2 28-day challenge! My fiance surprised me by suggesting we grab dinner tonight at Ecopolitan, a 100% organic, raw vegan restaurant. Let me guess, you're skeptical. I was too after trying some "live" falafel at an environmental fair years ago; however, I'm a complete convert.

Tonight, I ordered the Chef Surprise sans oil and light with the salt because I like surprises and if I was a chef I'd like the opportunity to be creative. I was very happy with the results: raw tostadas! The tostadas were loaded with red cabbage, red and yellow bell peppers, basil, avocado, hot sauce and some tasty cumin guacamole spread with a side of salsa and alfalfa sprouts.

The shell itself was like a sprouted flax cracker that is dehydrated at below 105 degrees rather than cooked. Sprouting is said to make the nutrients in the food more easy to absorb in your body. By dehydrating rather than cooking, raw foods are said to balance the acidity and chemicals created by cooking.

I'm not ready to give up hot food, but I've really liked the raw foods I've tried so far. Anyone want to road trip to Oklahoma City to try out this fine dining raw food experience?

Mi Amor Meals

Shh, don't tell my fiance, but I'm starting to think about what to make for a romantic valentine's day dinner. One may wrongly think that eating a plant-based diet is very utilitarian: beans and rice, lentils and rice, etc. It doesn't have to be. Here's where I'm looking for inspiration for a heart-healthy, romantic dinner:

Happy Herbivore: A blog and cookbook featuring low or no-fat everyday meals. She's even got a valentine's breakfast and dessert blog up already.

Post Punk Kitchen: A blog from the author of Appetite for Reduction and many other vegan cookbooks. Her rasberry truffle brownies recipe is a serious contender for dessert.

Vegan Yum Yum: This blog and cookbook  focuses on decadent, animal free recipes. Their rustic bread and eggplant lasagna is looking mighty tasty for a main entree.

Engine 2 Diet: Technically, my challenge ends on Sunday, but I've enjoyed my experience and am hoping to keep it up.

Happy Cow: A healthy, plants only recipe resource. The avocado caprese is leading my list of appetizers.

If you want a shortcut to a meatless meal for your loved one, check out this collection of 10 vegetarian recipes from last year.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Break Fast

I didn't realize how much I enjoyed taking time to prepare really tasty food on this challenge until this week's hectic schedule made that pretty darn near impossible. If you're strictly following the Engine 2 28-day challenge, you've got to either take time or prep in advance. I did neither this week, but survived. Here's how:

Challenge: 30 minutes between getting home from work and needing to leave for my precinct caucus.
Solution: Veggie pizza with leftover ancho taco lentils

Challenge: No time between work and a legislative forum (they had food, just not E2 food).
Solution: Snack of pita and peanut butter that I have in my office (and fresh veggies from the forum's buffet) and my fiance's pasta when I got home.

Challenge: Out every night this week = no time to cook meals with leftovers for lunch.
Solution: Hummus, fresh veggies, and pita

Challenge: Woke up late and can't miss the bus!
Solution: Stop at the coop grocery story by my office and pick up whatever I can find that fits the challenge (this is much easier to do at a coop, Whole Foods or a natural/health store than say Target, but you can find something anywhere (even a gas station!))

When you don't have time to make the good stuff yourself where you know what's in it, you've got to read the label. Not the front of the label, but the back. Look at the ingredients list and look at the full nutrition facts (not the %, but the grams.) Not sure what you're looking for? Whole Foods offers a great guide for the Engine 2 challenge.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Do or donut?

With only six days left in my Engine 2 28-day challenge, I'm starting to wonder what my eating habits will look like without the challenge. Will I stop myself from grabbing the samples of brownies, cheese or salted, oil-fried tortilla chip and guacamole as I walk through the grocery store? Will I choose those extra 10 minutes in bed over fixing a healthy breakfast like I did before? What will be the food that breaks the challenge ( I mean it has to be something really worth it, doesn't it?)?

The big question is: can there be a middle ground in my eating habits? Willpower is not my strong suit. Once I eat that pastry, what is going to stop me from eating the next one...the next day? The premise with the challenge is that if you stick it out (like I have) for the full challenge your taste buds will change and those foods will start to taste oily, salty or fatty instead of tasty. I guess I don't really believe that yet.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tough Love and Nachos

Whole Foods Market has succumbed to the false pretense that Super Bowl parties mean high calorie, meat-centric food. For the past 20 days, I've been eating plant-based, no added oil or salt whole grain foods thanks to the support of Whole Foods Market's 28-day Engine 2 challenge. Up until this weekend, every time I went into a Whole Foods store I found not only healthy ingredients, but prepped Engine 2 foods I could grab on the run. 

This weekend, I almost did a double take as "America's Healthiest Grocery Store" replaced plant-based, oil-free and vegetarian options on their deli bar with trays of chicken wings and fried chicken. The healthy wraps and salad sections were converted to dips and chips and meat chili storage. End caps featured soda, chips and frozen pizzas. It looked like any other grocery store or Target, and for that I was sad. Even their facebook page seemed hijacked by unhealthy promoting chicken wings, steak, dips and soda. I'll admit it. The marketing was working. Suddenly, I was reminded of the sugar rush from soda and desserts and the salty, greasy satiation of chips, chicken and pizza. It was the first time since I started the challenge I felt my willpower kick in. 

Thankfully, I remembered that  Engine 2 offers a fun, healthy version of Super Bowl favorites, and I rushed to get out of the store. When you have healthy options around you and promoted, you will choose them because they make you feel better and can be very satisfying. It's a lot harder when your barraged with the bad stuff.  

 Whole Foods has a good thing going by providing a place that supports people making healthy choices. What I saw in their stores this weekend hurt that brand. They don't have to get rid of those options, but highlighting the healthier options with the same enthusiasm would be appreciated.

What we're eating for the game: corn tortilla chips (simply cut up food for life corn tortillas and bake in the oven for 20 mins at 325 degrees), Post-punk kitchen's ancho lentil taco filling, Happy Herbivore's quick queso and tofu sour cream, homemade salsa, limes, cherry tomatoes, red onions and avocado. Super delicious! Go patriots!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nothing Too Weird

Last night, my parents arrived for a weekend visit. When I offered to have dinner ready when they arrived, my mom hesitantly responded "That would be good, but don't make anything too weird." Well, I like a challenge, so I set out to make a plant-based, healthy meal that was strictly in their comfort zone. The solution? My dad loves fettuccine alfredo, so I made a recipe out of the Happy Herbivore cookbook. The base of the sauce is silken tofu, soymilk and nutritional yeast. I forgot that our soymilk is slightly sweetened, so I had to up the garlic and onion powder and cayenne to cover the sweet. I also decided to skip adding peas or other veggies (the cookbook has a great suggestion of adding spinach and tomato) because we roasted up some broccoli and brussel sprouts as a side.  With black pepper, fresh parsley and vegan parmesan on the table to season the food, it was time for dinner. I also quickly made a pitcher of water with half a lemon and blood orange juiced in and slices of both for presentation.

Everyone liked the alfredo, and we were remarking that the calories and fat were more than cut in half in this version (and no cholesterol.) A 2 cup serving of Happy Herbivore's fettuccine alfredo has about 400 calories, whereas the lunch portion of fettuccine alfredo at Olive Garden has 800 calories. The fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in that Olive Garden lunch was more than I had in all my meals yesterday. There is more protein in the plant-based version of the dish as well.

The Happy Herbivore cookbook has been a great resource for inspiration as I adopt more plant-based, no oil healthy meals into my diet. Her blog is a great resource as well.

So, I don't think there is anything too weird about making one of my dad's favorite dishes much healthier.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just Try Something New

I love to create new dishes in the kitchen, but sometimes need some inspiration. After falling in love with Whole Foods' Sesame Ginger oil-free dressing that came with their Asian Salad, I bought a bottle of the dressing and started thinking about other applications beyond topping salads. What immediately came to mind was a Rachel Ray peanut satay stir-fry recipe I found online and enjoyed (back when I ate meat.) So tonight for dinner, I made a version that met the Engine 2 28-day challenge. It was really good, especially with a bright citrus slaw to contrast with the rich sesame/peanut sauce of the stirfry.

I've talked alot about oil-free salad dressings on the blog, and I know not everyone has access to Whole Foods to buy their version... so I offer Healthy Girl's Kitchen's Big List of No Oil Salad Dressings... now you can make your own!

Sesame Ginger Tempeh with Stir-fried Veggies

1/2 red onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 green bell pepper
4 oz bell mushrooms
2-3 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1 tsp Bragg's liquid aminos (or low salt soy sauce)
3-4 T Whole Foods Oil-Free Sesame Ginger Salad Dressing
1/2 lime

Turn non-stick or stainless steel pan on high and and add chopped onions and garlic and brown. Have a cup of water by the stove if needed to clean the browned goodness off the bottom of the pan as you (also speeds up the cooking time of the veggies.) Chop and add in peppers, mushrooms, carrots, celery one at a time allowing each to cook as you go. Remove all the veggies while they are still slightly undercooked. Cut the tempeh into 1/2 inch by 1 inch strips and add to the pan allowing them to get some color, add in 1-2 T of water to release and remaining browned veggie goodness. Next, mix the garlic sauce and bragg's (or soy sauce) with a 1/4 cup of water and add to tempeh. Let the tempeh cook in the sauce until the sauce reduces to the point of almost disappearing and add back in the veggies and salad dressing. Stir, squeeze with lime and keep on low until ready to serve. Serve over brown rice, spinach or in a wrap. Garnish with cilantro or green onions.

Citrus Slaw
1/2 head green cabbage
1 carrot
1 radish
1 blood orange
1/2 lime
2 green onions
2 tsp Tangerine Vinagrette (oil-free)
1 jalapeno or serrano (optional)

Slice or chop the cabbage, radish and green onion for slaw. Shave the carrot with a veggie peeler. Supreme the orange (cut off the skin and slice out the juicy segments). Add the juice from the lime and vinagrette and mix.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Smooth Operator

I'm on day 17 of the 28-day Engine 2 challenge and life is good. This transition has been relatively smooth and I can see myself sticking to much of the challenge guidelines after its over (I do look forward to being able to go to a restaurant without cheating on my challenge (the no oil and added salt can be a challenge).) One of my favorite things about this challenge, aside from the tasty food and health benefits, is the positive energy that's surrounding it. In my office, colleagues are following the blog and trying some of the recipes and adopting some of the lessons I'm learning themselves. At home, my fiance and I are eating more meals together that I cook. With the support from Whole Foods, we're meeting new people who are also interested in making these lifestyle changes for the long term. It's about choices and filling your life with what you want.

I woke up this morning not wanting the same old cereal blend I've been eating, so my fiance offered to whip me up what he has for breakfast instead.

Meet my fiance's "dark knight" smoothie:

Dark Knight Smoothie

2 cups light soy milk
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 banana (fresh or frozen)
1 T flax seed
2 cups spinach

You drink this in the morning and you've got some serious nutrients* jumpstarting your day:
324 calories
1/3 of your daily potassium
12 g of fiber (60 g of total carbs)
17 g of protein
135% daily Vitamin A
71% daily Vitamin C
100% daily Calcium
25% daily Iron
No cholesterol, 298mg of sodium, and 6 grams of fat (no trans or saturated.)
* According to